Digital and Film Photography

I list photography as an interest, mentally (and sometimes on my CV). Despite this, I don’t really know much about it. I like going somewhere, taking a camera, and taking some pictures, but I have no idea what I’m doing.

I’ve been pondering learning more about photography for a while, but never quite got around to taking a course.
A few years ago, I nearly bought a digital SLR, but then I balked at the cost, lost my nerve, and bought a superzoom bridge camera (Panasonic Lumix FZ8) for half the price.

Not really thinking about what I wanted to take pictures of, I was probably partially won over by the 12x zoom lens. Of course, the first thing I did after I got it, was take pictures of things too far away to see clearly with the naked eye.

There's a balloon way over there!
The close-up!

There I’d stand, saying things like “hey look at that plane way up there! It’s an Easyjet”, and occasionally adding on stupid things I couldn’t possibly see, like “the guy in row 8 has a moustache!”
I took a photo from the top of the Downs, of someone cycling along the road at the bottom, and you could see what brand of trainers they were wearing.

Here's an impressive cock, as taken by the person with me
And here's my cock picture

Now this is all well and good, but I’m not a private investigator. I’m not employed by people to find out if their partners are cheating, or in market-research by Adidas to find out if cyclists wear their trainers (some do). Why am I taking pictures of things so far away? It’s extreme “people-watching”.

They’re not very good pictures either. They’re grainy, and noise-ridden.

Actually, it’s fair to say it produces good photos outside, in good light (but not bright sunlight), if you’re not using the full zoom. Inside, it’s pretty poor – regularly blurry and oddly coloured. Outside at midday, most everything is white. I’ve tried tinkering with the white balance settings, and things like that – but it doesn’t really get much better.

Having done a little more in-depth research, the biggest complaint of a lot of reviews of my camera is that there’s a lot of noise in (most) photos.
It’s a bit like the pictures you see of celebrities on beaches, taken by the paparazzi 3 miles away. It demonstrates something that is happening, but it’s not very nice to look at. It’s functional, but not very pretty.

There's a nice greenhouse in somebody's garden
But..is that a Tesco carrier bag in a plant pot?

I’ve tried to branch out. I’ve been to nature parks, and woodland areas, but don’t come back with much.

Birds are a fascination of mine – perhaps because they’re difficult to photograph and tend to fly off when you get near them.
I don’t capture many pictures of birds. My autofocus is too slow, and the manual focus joystick too fiddly to do before the creature inevitably flies away.

I went to a charity fundraising meal recently, took this camera, and didn’t take many pictures. The ones that I did were blurry or just otherwise poor. Out of around 40 images, there was 1 that was possibly usable. I took a lot less photos on my iPhone, and ended up with better images from the phone, as it handled the light conditions a shit-load better.

Ken Rockwell

I started reading this website – http://www.kenrockwell.com
The layout of the site isn’t very good, but he’s written a lot of articles about photography, and makes some interesting points.
One is that you can take good photos with any point-and-shoot camera, and likewise you can take bad photos with a top-of-the-range SLR. He proves this by linking to the works of photographers who have used very basic cameras and produced good/interesting images.
I immediately feel bad that I have a mid-range camera, and I’m failing.

He also reckons that having too many lenses, buttons, settings, zoom levels, etc. to fiddle with, results in you taking less and worse pictures. This sounds like it’d be true.

He claims that cameras were at their pinnacle around the 1970s and 80s, and since then they’ve just got more complicated, and added more features than anyone needs. This I can definitely believe.

I’m not sure I believe that a point-and-shoot is going to be as good as an SLR. I’ve never seen the lines and clear details from a point-and-shoot, no matter who has taken the picture.
I recently went to Wildlife Photographer of the Year, at the Bristol museum (you should too – it’s free, and very good). Every photo there (even the ‘under 15’ category!), was taken on either a Canon or Nikon SLR (except one picture, which was taken on a “Toyo” – a brand I’ve not heard of).
No point-and-shoots anywhere.
While I CAN use my phone, when it sets the light wrong, it’s tricky to change it. Also, there’s no zoom. I’m not going to get a blackbird to stand still 3ft in front of me, so I can take its picture.
This all got me to wondering if it might be better to learn the technical side of photography on an old film-based camera, then advance onto an expensive digital SLR when I know what I’m doing.

Film?! In 2011?!

Yeah, I know – it’s old hat. It’s dead technology. And I’m part of the convergent world – smart-phones and whatnot.
But you can buy film-based SLR cameras by Nikon, Canon, etc. on eBay for under £15.
I saw an eBay powerseller selling a Canon 35mm SLR camera a couple of days ago, with a buy-it-now price (including postage) of £6.99. Film has become so unpopular that people are practically giving their old cameras away.

Someone recently offered me a film-based SLR (complete with lenses) and I thought “not digital? Nah”. I said I couldn’t think of a use for it, and they put it back in their loft.
Last week I mentioned it again, and they’re happy for me to take it off their hands and do whatever I like with it.

Surely even with the cost of films and developing, you’d have to burn through a lot of it to spend the £350 you have to pay to get a budget digital SLR.

What do you think? Is this the most stupid idea I’ve ever had? Am I moving from one tool that doesn’t do the job, to another tool that doesn’t do the job? Or am I the only tool, here – with my lack of understanding of photography/how to use the equipment?

Any tips? I haven’t loaded film into a camera in well over 10 years, and even then that was a £25 job from Argos. I’ve never used anything with changeable lenses.
The last time I used something that wasn’t digital to take pictures, was a holiday in 2003, though I would recommend that cheap disposable on the basis that we got at least 16 photos (from a 24 exposure I think) that were viewable, despite them being taken inside, in bad light, with the  operator being drunk for almost every shot.